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Zumbi dos Palmares

Between the years 1624 and 1630, the Dutch invaded Brazil which created a perfect opportunity for slaves to free themselves and escape the Portuguese regimes. Slaves began a mass exodus to the northeastern part of the country and created large working communities called quilombos for refuge. Quilombo dos Palmares was the largest of all the quilombos.

Zumbi dos Palmares was born around 1655 in the Quilombo dos Palmares. As an infant, he was captured by Portuguese soldiers and was given to Father Antonio Melo in Porto Calvo. The priest baptized Zumbi as Francisco and gave him an education consisting of learning Portuguese, Latin, and other subjects. Still unsettled in that world, Zumbi decided at the age of 15 to run away and return to the Quilombo dos Palmares. In the quilombo, he trained himself and others in an early version of Capoeira, firearms, swords, arrows, and defense strategies. His training proved great in 1675; Zumbi and other warriors of the community defeated Portuguese soldiers in a major battle.

With his proven braveness, Zumbi became a leader in the quilombo army. Even though he was adored and preferred by all in the community, another, named Ganga Zumba, was king. In an attack on the quilombo in 1677, one of Ganga Zumba’s sons was murdered and two others were captured. Tired of war, the king of the Quilombo dos Palmares accepted a peace treaty from the Portuguese to return any fugitive slaves living in the Palmares. Zumbi and most other in the quilombo disagreed with this idea of peace with Portugal so for his protection, Ganga Zumba moved to the Cucaú Valley under government supervision. Sometime later, Ganga Zumba died of poisoning and Zumbi became the new king of the Quilombo dos Palmares. Even whites who lived near the quilombo respected him so much that they called him captain. After many failed battles, the Portuguese attacked the withstanding quilombo again in 1693. During the battle, Zumbi was shot twice by soldiers, but managed to escape. In hiding for over a year, Zumbi was betrayed by one of his commanders. The betrayal led to the revelation of Zumbi’s location and eventually to his death. On November 20, 1695, the strong and resilient warrior was beheaded.

After Zumbi’s death, the Quilombo dos Palmares was abandoned and ruined. Yet to this day, its history still lives on for it is recognized by some as the birthplace of Capoeira. Zumbi, as ruler of the quilombo, is largely responsible for that. Being the warrior he was Zumbi earned the respect and loyalty of the people fighting and dying for their freedom. He led the slaves of the Palmares in their struggle and resistance against the Portuguese and, eventually, to their emancipation. He may have lived over 300 years ago, but Zumbi exists today as a symbol of the African slaves fight for freedom and social equality.

Mestre Pastinha

Vicente Ferreira Pastinha, the son of José Señor Pastinha and Eugênia Maria de Carvalho, was born on April 5th, 1889 in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Mestre Pastinha was exposed to Capoeira at the age of 8 by an African name Benedito. An older and stronger boy from Mestre Pastinha’s neighborhood use to beat him up often. One day Benedito saw the aggression then told Pastinha to stop by his house that he was going to teach him few things. The next encounter with that boy,Mestre Pastinha defeated him so quickly that the older boy became his admirer.

Mestre Pastinha had a happy and modest childhood. During the morning he would take art classes at the Liceu de Artes e Ofício school where he learned to paint; during the afternoons he would play with kites and practice capoeira. He continued his training with Benedito for three more years. Later, he joined a sailor school by his father wish, which would not support the Capoeira practice. At the school, he taught Capoeira to his friends. At the age of 21, he left the sailor school to become a professional painter. During the spare time he would practice Capoeira stealthily, since it was still illegal at that time.

In 1941, by Aberrê (Pastinha’s ex student) invitation, Pastinha went to a Sunday roda at “Ladeira do Gengibirra” located at bairro da Liberdade, where the best masters would gather. Aberrê was already famous at these rodas, and after spending the afternoon there, one of the greatest masters of Bahia, Mestre Amorzinho, asked Mestre Pastinha to take over the Capoeira Angola. As a result, Mestre Pastinha founded the first Angola school, the “Centro Esportivo de Capoeira Angola” in 1942. His students would wear black pants and yellow t-shirt, the same color of the “Ypiranga Futebol Clube”, his favorite soccer team.

He participated with the Brazilian delegation of the “First International Festival de Artes Negras” in Dakar, Senegal (1966), bringing with him Mestre João Grande, Mestre Gato Preto, Mestre Gildo Alfinete, Mestre Roberto Satanás and Camafeu de Oxossi. Pastinha worked as shoe shiner, tailor, gold prospector, security guard (leâo de chácara) at a gambling house (casa de jogo) and construction worker at the “Porto de Salvador” to maintain him financially so he could do what he loved the most, be an Angoleiro.

Betrayed by local authorities false promises and with no support, Pastinha was left abandoned in a city shelter (abrigo D. Pedro II – Salvador), blind and very sick. He dedicated his entire life to Capoeira Angola, and in April 12th, 1981, he played his last Capoeira game. Mestre Pastinha, the father and protector of Capoeira Angola, died at the age of 92, in November 13th, 1981.

Mestre Bimba

Every capoeirista has his own mestre to whom he must show respect and obedience in order to gain the skill, knowledge, and essence of capoeira. However there was a particular mestre who saw a potential in capoeira as more than an outlawed street fight. This mestre, Manoel dos Reis Machado or Mestre Bimba, began a journey in the 1930’s to evolve capoeira into a sport that could be respected by fellow Brazilians, the government of Brazil and even the world. He named it Luta Regional Baiana, or Capoeira Regional. Mestre Bimba himself embodied, what many considered, the characteristics of a perfect capoeirista. The fundamentals of capoeira he displayed were consistent, firm, and could not be emulated; his skills with the berimbau, the main instrument in Capoeira, were incomparable; his knowledge of the Afro-Brazilian culture was undisputed.

Mestre Bimba was born to Dona Maria Martinha do Bonfim and Luiz Candido Machado in the Brazilian northeastern state of Bahia on November 23, 1900. His love for the martial arts was instilled in him by his father, a champion of Batuque, the African martial art full of contacts and traumatic kicks. Mestre Bimba began his capoeira training at Estrada das Boiadas in Salvador, Bahia. He trained under Mestre Bentinho, an African captain of the Companhia de Navegaçao Baiana (Bahian Navy Company) for four years and taught for more than 10. In 1932, after many years of training and teaching with his mestre, Mestre Bimba opened a studio dedicated to practicing a style of capoeira he developed, which was influenced by other martial arts like Batuque, Jiu-Jitsu, and Boxing. This type of Capoeira, Capoeira Regional, was more upright, offered higher kicks, and a faster rhythm. In 1937 he registered as a Physical Education instructor and utilized this opportunity to teach Capoeira Regional at the Centro de Preparaçao de Oficiais da Reserva. He officially opened his second studio in 1942.

As a result of his hard work, Mestre Bimba became very well known throughout all of Brazil. His students ranged from children and the poor to those with great political and social status. His presence could not be denied anymore; Mestre Bimba was given the opportunity to bring Capoeira Regional to the Bahia’s Governor Juracy Magalhaes. In 1953, the governing officials gave Mestre Bimba the privilege to show the sport in which he invested so much to the president of Brazil, Getuilo Vargas. Mestre Bimba viewed the opportunity crucial to the development and acceptance of the African culture into the Brazilian population. Mestre Bimba succeeded, Vargas allowed Capoeira Regional to be practiced as a Brazilian martial art and through the Ministry of Education.

Mestre Bimba created a new reality in capoeira. The recognition of capoeira’s cultural significance is historically connected to Mestre Bimba. His creative, spiritual, and administrative organization promoted capoeira to the masses, drawing the interest of audiences with rodas, performances, and workshops. Local tourist agencies worked with Mestre Bimba to coordinate performances and demonstrations where he handed out flyers, brochures, and tickets to all who watched. At Mestre Bimba’s academy, Centro de Cultural Fisica Capoeira Regional da Bahia, Capoeira was thought not just as a game, martial art, or fight, but also as a way to get involved with the community and to improve one’s life. He taught his students discipline during strict practices, gave them responsibility to organize and promote capoeira events, and created for them a sense of awareness of capoeira in society.

Mestre Bimba’s academy became the model for all other academies, even academies today. In 1973 Mestre Bimba moved to Goiania where he died of a stroke one year later. Mestre Bimba was responsible for a revolution when he created Capoeira Regional in the 1930’s. The agility of the movements, the offensive posture without using violence, the “malicia” or fake attacks, the quick thinking during the game, the different rhythms, and white uniforms are just some of the characteristics of Bimba’s Capoeira that still exist in Capoeira today.

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